Last Updated on November 18, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1529
Anna is the only child of Ida. She is married to Albert Silva, with whom she has eight children, including Jeanne and Frankie. In “The Progress of This Disease,” Anna’s first-person account, Anna tries to cope with Jeanne’s terminal cancer diagnosis. Anna reads up extensively on cancer, ironically observing how unaffordable the disease’s new-age treatments are:
Laetrile, coffee enemas, diets of brown rice and sprouts, support groups—none of which I had time or money for. . . .
These lines sum up Anna’s predicament. She is caught between nurturing her family and supporting them with her work at the local canning factory, and between her clan’s past and the demands of the larger, white world. With Albert being an alcoholic, Anna functions almost as a single parent. Driving Jeanne on excursions around Sonoma County, Anna reminisces about her childhood and her shared past with her community, including the death of her aunt Sipie. Sipie’s death was supposedly caused by the witchcraft of Dewey, Sipie and Ida’s brother and Anna’s uncle. The extended family believe Dewey’s act poisoned subsequent generations and caused Jeanne’s cancer; however, it is unclear if Anna herself shares this view, since Dewey and Ida live with her.
Frankie is the young teenage son of Anna and Albert Silva and the narrator of “Slaughterhouse.” He feels pressured to perform masculinity in front of his peers. After he and his friends draw straws to see who will enter a slaughterhouse where a pimp conducts business, Frankie is forced to go in. In the terrible-smelling space, Frankie comes across something which horrifies him: his cousin Ruby dancing with two prostitutes. Since Frankie is in love with Ruby, witnessing her seeming degradation profoundly affects him. Frankie exhibits misogynist hypocrisy in the way he views Ruby’s sexuality as dirty, while he himself is comfortable with masturbating to adult magazines in the presence of his friends.
Elderly Nellie is a traditional Pomo medicine woman, basket-weaver, and keeper of songs. Nellie epitomizes how elders among the Pomo Indians deal with their cultural dislocation by tightly adhering to traditions. Nellie is the mother of Catherine, whom she had with her first husband, Charles Benedict, and the mother of four other children with her second husband, Alfred Copaz. Nellie’s centrality to the narrative of Grand Avenue can be gleaned from her multiple appearances: apart from “Waiting for the Green Frog,” she is also the narrator of “The Water Place,” and she appears in other stories, such as “Sam Toms’s Last Song,” as well. In “Waiting for the Green Frog,” Nellie describes the songs that inspire her healing powers. These songs are associated with a magical green frog that appears to Nellie from a “riverside,” the home of her ancestors. In “Sam Toms’s Last Song,” she defeats the attempts of wily patriarch Sam to control her, thus exhibiting her feminist sensibility. In “The Water Place,” the last story in the book, Nellie’s young relative Alice seeks her out for a basket-making apprenticeship. The weaving of the baskets is symbolic of the transmission of heritage, as well as the healing of history’s wounds. As she teaches Alice how to weave baskets, Nellie relives the complex history of her clan.
Look at what the Spanish did, then the Mexicans, then the Americans. All of them, they took our land, locked us up. Then look at what we go and do to one another.
Nellie’s words, which appear near the end of the book, are significant, as they explain the painful legacy of cultural violence faced by the Pomo Indians who have settled in Santa Rosa. The trauma of displacement and colonization now manifests itself as ennui, alcoholism, and infighting. But with younger...
(The entire section contains 1529 words.)
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